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Houston Texans Cheerleaders Tryouts

This year, I covered the Houston Texans Cheerleader Tryouts and I met a really diverse set of people. More than 600 hopefuls showed up for the chance to earn their spot on the squad. In the end, only about 50 or so made it to the finalists round and the squad was whittled down from there. The fact that everyone, regardless of if they made it or not, was brave enough to try out is admirable to me. I only tried out for a squad in junior high school! Veterans weren’t guaranteed a spot on the team. They had to audition again just like anyone else.

For a look at some of the people who tried out and their stories, check out my photo essay here.

I also took a few shots of my own including of some of the Texans super fans who were invited to judge tryouts.

A (Rockin’) Night at the Museum

You normally wouldn’t go to the Museum of Fine Arts to stargaze but anything can happen during Super Bowl weekend. The kind of stars I’m talking about also aren’t typically seen in the sky. But they did shine bright at Rolling Stone Live!, the event I covered the Saturday night before the big game.

Once the celebrities hit the red carpet, it felt like the party had already started and that was before headliners DJ Cassidy, Diplo, Big Sean and Nas got there. You can read about the antics that ensued here or check out the full story under the pictures.

Stars clown around and put on a red carpet show at Rolling Stone Super Bowl party

We haven’t even made it through Super Bowl LI yet and already comedian JB Smoove had a suggestion for next year’s half time performer. “JB Smoove, of course. Next question!” Jokes, laughter and antics were just some of what could be heard and spotted on the red carpet at the Rolling Stone Live! party that had the atmosphere feeling more like a comedy club.

From NFL players Eddie Lacy and Brandon Williams dancing to Anthony Anderson breaking up Smoove’s interview (they hugged it out right after that), celebrities from the entertainment and sports world got things rolling early at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Saturday night.

In fact, former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman called out reporters for being too tame. “Why are you so quiet? Am I going to have to put on some music on my phone?” It might have been a little quiet on media row, but the evening’s performers would more than make up for it.

DJ Cassidy and Diplo were set to take the stage along with Grammy-nominated rapper, Big Sean, who stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for fans waiting outside the red carpet area on Montrose Boulevard, not far from Hotel ZaZa. It turned out to be a prime spot to sight celebs. Entourage’s Adrian Grenier ended up going over to meet fans, as did Houston Rockets star Sam Dekker when he arrived around midnight.

Busta Rhymes showed up later for a surprise performance with Diplo.

To be one of the main acts, multi-platinum artist Nas slipped onto the red carpet quietly, letting his jacket do the talking with the words ‘Unity Is Power’ on the back. He walked in around 10:30 pm and his name came up often when stars like Eddie George were asked who they were excited to see. “I’m ready to see Nas because he’s one of the legends. I’m a big hip-hop fan, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” George said.

Appearances came early and often with Alyssa Milano, James Ihedigbo, Warren Sapp, NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Cameron Jordan, Delanie Walker, Finesse Mitchell, Olivia Culpo, and Odell Beckham Jr. arriving within the same hour.

MFAH as party venue

One thought that crossed my mind was how the Museum of Fine Arts would be turned into the party venue that athletes including Ezekiel Elliott, A.J. Green, Antonio Cromartie, Jaelen Strong, Devon Still, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz would flock to.

I got my answer when a mix-up got me inside about an hour before the event started. A huge DJ booth on the second floor lined a wall showing projection art. The space that normally has only a few seats for museum guests to watch the installation was filled with leather lounges and tables. Across from that, Mercedes-Benz, a sponsor of the event, had a convertible AMG GT C model on display.

White Mercedes-Benz sports cars were also parked outside the museum in contrast to the splashes of color being thrown onto the exterior of the building.

Back on the red carpet

Back out on the red carpet, expected questions surrounding the Super Bowl like “What do you think Lady Gaga is going to do during the half-time show?” or  “Who do you think will win?” dominated the conversation.

But you can’t talk about the big game without talking about the big city hosting it. “Houston is relatively easy to get around, hospitality has been great, the food has been excellent, and it’s been easy for a long week,” George said.

Minnesota Vikings’ Andrew Sendejo also praised the city, calling Houston his second home since he graduated from Rice University. He struck several fun poses on the red carpet.

Celebrities continued pouring into the party with Jerome Bettis, Chanel Iman, Darrelle Revis, Rashad Jennings and Caroline Wozniacki making it in before midnight. Fans who stuck around long after that were also able to see Gordon Ramsay, David Schwimmer and Adrienne Bailon.

 

 

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NFL Goes Green

The Super Bowl has passed through Houston but it didn’t just leave us an historic game. The NFL is hoping its legacy in the Bayou City will extend far beyond the finale between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

While the NFL Experience, Super Bowl Live, Club Nomadic and other attractions were being built around the city, the league was also implanting roots here through its Environmental Program. That means some of the materials used to transform Houston into a decked-out host city will go toward local non-profits. For example, banners displayed on NRG Stadium or the security netting used for crowd control at Discovery Green went toward non-profits who could re-use or even upcycle them into new products.

I talked to Jack Groh, the director of the NFL Environmental Program, about how the league worked to leave a little piece of itself and a big impression, throughout Houston.

Check out my article on the effort here or see the whole story below.

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That “right thing” Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.

 

 

 

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Letting Off Some Steam

Hours before the AFC Wildcard showdown took place at NRG Stadium, another battle of sorts was going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center. It was a fight between fans of the Houston Texans and a car covered in Kansas City Chiefs decals.

The Bridal Extravaganza may have seemed like an unlikely place to take a sledgehammer to a busted old car, but the show’s organizers say it was a  fitting way to let brides-to-be and their soon-to-be husbands relieve some of the stress that comes along with wedding planning. Fans also say it was payback for the way the Chiefs beat the Texans at the beginning of the season.

Although we know how the story ended (KC shut out Houston 30 to nothing), fans were thrilled to destroy anything Chiefs-related, even before the game that put a wrap on the Texans post-season run.

This story was a lot of fun to do. I admit destroying things (in a somewhat healthy way) can be a great stress reliever. I could barely hold the sledgehammer, but I got a couple hits in! Check out the story above. I wrote and edited it.

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A Houston Homecoming

Getting back to the University of Houston was as much of a homecoming for me as it was for the person I was doing a story about that day. I hadn’t been back there since I graduated in 2013. The part that I went to, the Athletics/Alumni Center, was much like how I remembered it. The youth football camp hosted by Oakland Raiders cornerback and NFL star D.J. Hayden was held on the practice football field. That was just as fresh as I’d left it, too, having last been there for an actual practice when I was a production intern at CSN Houston. The new turf laid down there probably helps, but I digress.

Hayden came back to host his second annual camp and launch his foundation to see to it that kids who might not otherwise have the chance get to learn from a pro athlete.

If the atmosphere at the camp could be described in one word, I’d say it’s “family.” Well, maybe also “hot” because the sun was blazing even though the camp started early in the morning.

The full story is posted here on CultureMap. Or as always, you can get the scoop below. Enjoy! And are you ready for some football?

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“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! I know we aren’t walking!” The commands blaring through the bullhorn are being well-received by the football players running onto the field at the University of Houston’s Athletics/Alumni Center.

The aspiring athletes quickly fall into formation, warming up with lunges, sprints and back pedal exercises. It’s only 8 in the morning, but it doesn’t take long for beads of sweat to start bubbling across the foreheads of this ambitious group of athletes.

But are they really listening to that voice coming through the bullhorn?

“Of course. They don’t have a choice. I’m very convincing,” Zachary McMillian says, with a smile.

It turns out McMillian is a close friend and former teammate of the man these 100 or so players are here to see – Oakland Raiders cornerback and former UH standout D.J. Hayden.

A few minutes later, they’re huddled around him as the NFL star opens the activities with a simple demand, “Work hard.  Make plays.”

It’s a theme summed up in a few words that would set the tone for the rest of the day at Hayden’s Second Annual Play Your Heart Out Football Camp.

The free camp gives kids ages 10-14 the opportunity to learn techniques and sharpen their skills on both sides of the ball, whether their dream is to be a starting quarterback or a linebacker.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really go to camps like this and I wasn’t a part of them,” Hayden says. “For me, to have it at the University of Houston, it’s just giving back.  For them to see me doing what I’m doing lets them know that they can do it, too.”

No doubt, boys like 13-year-old D.J. Pena have taken notice.

“It’s the first time I could see an NFL player up close. It’s good that he came from Oakland down to Houston to teach us kids how to play football,” Pena says.

The connection to Hayden could be closer than Pena and the other middle-school students at the camp might think.

The offensive and defensive drills they’re running on the practice football field are similar to what Hayden and his teammates were doing on the nearby Carl Lewis Field almost three years ago. The field was also the place of a serious accident where one moment could have been Hayden’s last.

“He went down and we didn’t think anything was wrong,” McMillian says. “We moved the drill up, we kept going and he was out there on the floor.”

On November 6, 2012, Hayden had suffered a life-threatening injury.  During a passing drill, a teammate had crashed into Hayden, accidentally hitting him in the chest with his knee. That collision would result in a torn inferior vena cava – the main vein that pumps blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.

The injury is typically 95 percent fatal and one that is often seen in high-speed car crashes. However, Hayden went on to make a full recovery, becoming a first round draft pick, selected by the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Now two years later, Hayden is healthy and looking ahead to the start of the football season.

“OTAs (organized team activities) were great with the whole new coaching staff,” Hayden says. “With head coach Jack del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., I feel like we’re going to do some special things this year.”

But before Hayden rejoins Raider Nation for training camp, he has some unfinished business to tend to at the home of the Cougars.

That’s because his camp also serves as the kickoff of his DJ Hayden Foundation.

“Whether it’s helping kids with clothes or anything they need, we’re just giving back to them,” Hayden says. “My foundation will be giving back to underprivileged kids, kids in the hospital with heart problems. We want to give them a solid foundation with everything.”

Current UH linebacker and camp volunteer Rasheed Tynes says he wouldn’t expect anything less from Hayden. And like many of the young men there to help, he also echoes a common sentiment.

“This is great. It’s what’s supposed to get done. Nobody helped me when I was younger. I always had to struggle and fight for everything I ever had, so it’s always good to find somebody and help them out,” Tynes said. “You’re never supposed to forget where you came from.”

The friends, relatives, UH players and staff surrounding the practice field probably wouldn’t let Hayden forget even if he tried.

That includes Andre Johnson, a family friend who says he watched the star cornerback grow up. He’s known Hayden since he was about 3 years old and says he was also the ring boy in his wedding. Johnson brought his son out to the camp, hoping he could pick up a thing or two from Hayden.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that he got this far, and God blessed him even during his injury,” Johnson said. “Every time he’s hurt or had difficulties, he’s still out there making it happen.”

Even though Johnson’s 13-year-old son, Avante, normally plays defensive back, he’s mixing it up at the camp, running fade routes as a wide receiver.

“I want to say thanks. It’s a good opportunity for me to get better and for players around me to get better,” Avante says.

He offers this advice to future players looking to join the camp next year.

“Do your best. Whatever you’re capable in, just play hard.”

Sound familiar?

“Just go out there and play your heart out,” Hayden says. “I see a lot of kids second-guess themselves because they don’t feel as athletic as some of the other ones.  But if they go out and give it their all, the sky is the limit.”

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FH5: Lebanese Elegance and Walking with Dem Boyz

The final night of Fashion Houston started off with a little help from the NFL. Houston Texans running back Jonathan Grimes played piano and sang back-up vocals on the slick, white runway for Taylor Crowley, who gave her own jazzy renditions of songs like Sia’s “Chandelier.”

Houston Texans running back Jonathan Grimes showing his musical skills off the gridiron
Houston Texans running back Jonathan Grimes showing his musical skills off the gridiron

With that, the first collection swept the catwalk with some of the most gorgeous gowns I’ve ever seen. They were from Lebanese designer Rami Salamoun. His work featured dresses that were lacy, daring (thanks to the high slits, low cuts and conveniently placed details over certain body parts)  and literally sparkled on the models. His bridal gowns almost made me wish I was getting married. Almost.

Salamoun also played up his pride for Lebanon — the lights went down and came up again to reveal a model wearing a robe of the Lebanese flag. Lebanon’s national anthem rang out during the display, which garnered applause from the audience.

Someone else who used music to send a message through his show was Haitian designer Fabrice Tardieu.

685During my interview with him, he gushed about his love for Houston — so much so that he’d consider moving here! FH5 also wasn’t his first rodeo (had to put that in there!). He showed in 2012 as co-owner of the brand Bogosse, which was a business he shared with his brother. This time around, he brought along his line of luxury jogging suits (think sets blended with leather and Japanese denim) floral prints and shirts with a print of Benjamin Franklin. He also dropped a hint to me during our chat: pay close attention to the music. It comes from artists who have worn his eponymous brand.

So, what tune helped give models their swagger during his show? Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz.” And it looks like the models were taught well — Tardieu did his bow or should I say, dance,  to the song, too.

While the crowd bounced to the beat (myself included), the musical hint reminded me of something a friend of mine used to tell me all the time: miss a moment, miss a lot.

Stay stylish!